Getting UNIX Out the Microsoft Door
UNIX developers talk about crossing Microsoft's final frontier
Nobody ever said it was going to be easy working for Microsoft. But, at first glance, UNIX developers Randy Chapman and David Dawson might have seemed to face even more than the usual challenges. First, their team was charged with the daunting task, and this was not even a year ago, of producing a version of Internet Explorer 4.0 that would run on a UNIX operating system, which is actually an entire rainbow assortment of operating systems, including Solaris and HP-UX among many others.
For those who won't do Windows
Get this done yesterday
"It was very evident to me that this project got a lot of support from the company," Chapman says. "It was much easier in terms of getting support than anything I've ever done. We were always taken seriously when we had problems. It's certainly been the most enjoyable job I've had professionally."
Why all the urgency? Because the release of Internet Explorer 4.0 for UNIX has been one of the longest anticipated flanking operations in the ongoing browser wars of the past few years between Microsoft and Netscape. With the release of this product, Microsoft is in a vastly better position to serve the needs of many of their users with this new level of cross-platform support. No one has argued that Internet Explorer 4.0 isn't the superior browser for the Windows family of operating systems. With the release of a 4.0 version for Macintosh at the beginning of the year that left only one significant operating system niche: UNIX.
Compounding the urgency was the fact that a version of Internet Explorer 3.0 for UNIX had been developed almost to the point where it was ready for release. But it had not been developed fast enough or well enough.
"We had most of it ready for 3.0," Chapman remembers. "Then we pretty much started working on 4.0 last April, of '97. I think the hope was that we would be able to match the release date of the Windows 95 release. Now we're working on a version of 4.0 for HP and then we're on to Internet Explorer 5.0, once again trying to ship as close to Windows as we can."
Closet UNIXphiles in Redmond?
Chapman agrees with Dawson that one of the best-kept secrets here at the home of DOS and Windows is the widespread use of UNIX by a variety of developers in a variety of circumstances. "There are definitely a lot of people here who use Linux," Chapman says flatly. "It's used for compatibility testing, and of course it's the best way to approach UNIX-based solutions and problems.
"It was weird," he remembers of his transition to Microsoft. "After being fairly active in the Linux community, and fairly well-known, there were a lot of people who were surprised that I would 'come over to the dark side.' But in terms of the people here it's never been anything less than wonderful. I've never felt any bias. People here are always very helpful."
And the fact is that both Chapman and Dawson have grown quite comfortable shuttling back and forth between the worlds of Windows and UNIX. "It's amazing to me how far UNIX has to go today to catch up to NT," says Dawson. "Take, just for one example, threading support. UNIX still has benefits, but NT is just a lot more full-featured."
Both are equally enthusiastic about the quality of the product they created as well. "Ours is every bit as good, if not better, than the competition," Chapman says. Dawson adds, "Netscape in UNIX doesn't even support standards-based DHTML. We've come a long way in a fairly short time."
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Last updated: Monday, February 16, 1998
Photo Credits: PhotoDisc